Shortly after I moved to Charlotte in the summer of 1984, I subscribed to The Charlotte Observer. At the time, Dannye Romine Powell served as the book editor for the paper. Back in those days, the paper published a two-page book section every Sunday. It included original book reviews, interviews with authors, and news about local literary events. As a regular reader of the paper’s book section, I got to know Dannye through her writing and through seeing her at book signings and other literary events in the community. I soon came to see Dannye as a key player in Charlotte’s literary scene.
Dannye made her debut on the Charlotte literary scene in 1975 when she became the book editor for The Charlotte Observer. She remained the paper’s book editor until 1992. In this role, she often interviewed Southern authors. She decided to collect these interviews in a book titled Parting the Curtains: Interviews with Southern Writers, which came out in 1995. In addition to her interview book, Dannye has published five poetry collections, two of which have won the the North Carolina Poetry Society’s Brockman-Campbell Award for best book by a North Carolina poet. Her most recent collection, In the Sunroom with Raymond Carver, just came out from Press 53. For more information about this collection, please click on the following link: https://www.press53.com/dannye-romine-powell
I recently contacted Dannye and asked for her reflections on her long career as a Charlotte journalist, columnist, and poet. Here is her response:
In the beginning – at least in the beginning of my tenure as book editor of the Charlotte Observer in 1975 – there was Charleen. Nobody said, “Charleen who?” Everybody knew. The ebullient, charismatic Charleen Whisnant was all the literati this town needed. She published a series of hardback literary reviews – The Red Clay Reader – unparalleled in their energy and excellence. Before long, Charleen reclaimed her maiden name – Swansea. She divorced her high school sweetheart, married a young entrepreneur, and moved on to South Carolina and other pursuits.
Charlotte was rich in poets in those years. But in 1970s and ‘80s, with one or two fleeting exceptions, to unearth a novelist, Charlotte had to dig back to Carson McCullers’ brief stay here in 1937. Chapel Hill had the goods –Reynolds Price, Doris Betts, Daphne Athas and Max Steele. And Greensboro with novelist and poet Fred Chappell. And Columbia, S.C., with James Dickey – predominantly a poet – and Jackson, Miss., with Eudora Welty, whose genius was the short story.
Before long, a new crop of novelists sprang up – again in the Chapel Hill area — Lee Smith, Alan Gurganus, Marianne Gingher, Angela Davis-Gardner, (Charlotte native) Lawrence Naumoff and others.
A decade before my arrival at the Observer, my predecessor Harriet Doar had discovered Louisiana’s Walker Percy and his first novel, “The Moviegoer.” By discovered, I mean she had snatched his book from the dozens that poured in each week to the newsroom and wrote about it as if Percy belonged to us. As Harriet once explained, “Sometimes you just know a good book by its feel.”
My own find was the young Kaye Gibbons of Raleigh in 1987. Thanks to Harriet, I too had learned to feel my way to a promising read. One day, I plucked a small volume from the pile and noticed blurbs from both Eudora Welty and Walker Percy. I wept as I read the first page of Gibbons’ magical “Ellen Foster” — a sure sign my sensibilities had encountered genius.
Charlotte came so close to having our very own novelist with the late Dot Jackson, a former Observer columnist, who spent the 1970s and part of the ‘80s writing the splendid “Refuge,” after working all day at the paper. But by the time it came out in 2006, she had moved on to Six Mile, S.C.
We finally snared one in 1991 when Algonquin Books published Simmons Jones’s first and only novel, “Show Me the Way to Go Home.” Jones, a Charlotte native, was 70 when the book came out.
Today, Charlotte teems with novelists. There’s Judy Goldman, poet-turned-novelist- turned memoirist. And the internationally bestselling Kathy Reichs. Among others, there’s Mark de Castrique, Kimmery Martin, Kim Wright, Jeff Jackson, Sarah Creech, Nancy Stancill, Kathryn Schwille, Phillip Lewis, Webb Hubbell, Jon Buchan, Megan Miranda, Amber Smith, Erika Marks, Alan Michael Parker, Andrew Hart, Marybeth Whalen, Alicia D. Williams, Renee Ahdieh, Gail Z. Martin, Paula Martinac, Aaron Gwyn, Carrie Ryan, Joy Callaway and Bryn Chancellor.
And, yes, poets still thrive here. Julie Suk, now 96, has a new collection due in May from Jacar Press.
Funny, isn’t it. When the literary pickings were slim here, The Observer’s book page flourished. Now the writers are flourishing. And where oh where is the book page?
Nowadays Charlotte’s literary scene has many players, but few can match Dannye’s long record. For her 45 years of contributing to Storied Charlotte, I thank her.